Farmer, preacher praised as heroes after Carlie Trent found safe, suspect arrested

Posted at 7:16 PM, May 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-12 21:16:07-04

By Ralph Ellis


(CNN) — A farmer and a Baptist preacher became heroes Thursday when they found a missing 9-year-old girl in a remote section of east Tennessee.

The men also held Carlie Marie Trent’s suspected captor at gunpoint until authorities arrived, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said.

“These are two heroes who went on their property just to see if they were there,” Gwyn said. “The public is who rescued Carlie and without their assistance I wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”

Carlie went missing May 4 after her uncle by marriage, Gary Simpson, removed her without permission from her school in Rogersville, the TBI said. Rogersville is in the mountains of east Tennessee and authorities thought that’s where they’d find them, perhaps camping.

The TBI asked the public to look in their barns and on their property and four-wheel trails for clues. That’s what Donnie Lawson, a farmer, and Roger Carpenter, a minister, were doing on Thursday, Gwyn said.

They came across Carlie and Simpson in a rugged area of Hawkins County, where Rogersville is located, Gwyn said. One man held a gun on Simpson while the other called 911, he said.

It seemed like the entire state exulted when the news broke that Carlie was found. An intensive search had been underway, with authorities earlier saying Carlie might have been in “imminent danger.” An Amber Alert had been issued and the FBI made the disappearance the case of the week on its website.

Carlie appeared to be safe but was taken to a hospital to be checked out, Gwyn said.

Simpson, 57, was charged with especially aggravated kidnapping and may face other charges. He’s being held in the Hawkins County Jail.

Josh DeVine, TBI spokesman, said Simpson bought clothing and camping equipment before going to the school, so investigators thought they might have been staying in the woods or at a campground.

People had reported seeing Carlie as far away as Idaho but the search had always been focused on Hawkins County, Gwyn said.

“Our intelligence was telling us that, our experience was telling us that,” he said.

CNN’s Josh Berlinger and Keith Allen contributed to this report.